Nick and I had a few days away in Sussex but we peppered our digital detox with the things we love the most: fine food and fine wine. We had a fabulous meal at The West House in Biddenham, Kent and a fabulous wine tasting of Chapel Down wines.
In fact Nick’s tweet said it all. It was the best food we’d eaten in a while and the best 1* Michelin food we’ve had in ages. And then we went to one of my favourite places: Chapel Down Winery. How often do you feel the need to return to a winery more than once? Especially in England. Chapel Down wines will change your mind.
I’m a huge fan of their wines. And much like I’m keen to help our guests discover wines beyond pinot grigio and cabernet sauvignon, I get a little bit excited when a customer opts for Chapel Down wines over their usual New Zealand sauvignon blanc. It’s a small victory for artisan producers and an eye-opening moment for the customer.
The largest grape press in the UK
Freddie gave us a exclusive tour of the vineyard and winery, and I felt like Charlie Bucket on a tour of Mr Wonka’s chocolate factory. Was there anything we didn’t see or sample? The 37 year old Bacchus vines in the late autumn sunshine with their autumnal tones were as good as any place to start. Mid tour we saw the biggest grape press in the UK – at 11 tons you start to get a picture for how much wine is produced here and just how much demand is growing for English wine.
Naturally, they make their own sparkling English wine too and we walked through the set up for riddling the bottles. What was once a manual process (remuage) using pupitre to stack and hand twist the upturned bottles in traditional Champagne making, is now a mass and automated process. The purpose: to consolidate the sediment (or lees) into the neck of the bottle before disgorging it.
Perhaps less typical, Chapel Down also produces a lager appropriately titled Curious IPA and a cider. As much as I’m not a fan of Bacchus, neither am I a fan of cider. Problem solved: only drink Chapel Down cider. As far the Curious IPA goes, we’re working on getting it on draught as soon as possible.
We tasted all of the Chapel Down wines and then some of their other tipples. Not a bottle went unstoppered. It all started with the Bacchus and the Tenterden Estate Bacchus Reserve. Bacchus is a grape created and predominantly grown in Germany, that is often blended to enhance the flavours of other wines or in place of Riesling if it doesn’t ripen properly. If it ripens well, it creates some big wines.
Bacchus was brought to the UK because in our cooler climate although it yields less it earns a higher acidity. That is used to create a sauvignon blanc style English wine. Now I’m no sauvignon blanc fan, but it would be rude not to try the wine!
Personally, it was only upwards from there. As you can see from one of the photos, we didn’t skimp on our wine tasting efforts. The pinot blanc and the chardonnay soon got my palate on track and I always love to be surprised by a rose – such an undervalued wine with a generally pure reputation for sickly sweetness. Not this one.
The Chapel Down sparkling wine didn’t disappoint either and proves excellent value. It’s vital for us to have easily quaffable bubbles on our list. Bubbles is increasingly the pre-dinner drink and decreasingly seasonal. Plus the Champagne snobbery is waning as more people enjoy fizz but don’t need the real deal or the Champagne price tag.
Chapel Down and The Miller
As you’ll mostly already know, Nick and I are adamant that the produce we source and the suppliers we deal with are likeminded individuals doing what they do because of and for a genuine passion and specialism. When we’ve got a question about a product we want to be able to speak to the company owner, not digest an FAQ page. When a supplier arrives with a delivery and asks if we’re interested in seeing what else they’ve got in stock this week, we go and have a look. When we want to evolve what we’re doing we like to work with our suppliers as expert consultants to help us achieve next steps.
Why? Because businesses thrive and survive on innovation, creativity and sound relationships. Obviously I love most of the wines produced by Chapel Down, but I also love their ethos. They couldn’t have done enough for us during our visit and they certainly went out of their way to tell us their story and their drinks portfolio.
What’s more, they’ve sold out of the Flint Dry – it’s been snapped up by a large retailer. But… they’ve managed to secure all remaining stock for us at The Miller and we’re chuffed to pieces. This is just the beginnings of
Chapel Down wines on our new list
Well there’s nothing like a spanner in the works, is there. We were 95% certain we were ready to go to print on our wine list. There was just the matter of finalising the bubbles. Now we’re assessing how we can incorporate more of the Chapel Down portfolio. You’ll have to wait and see… Until then, pop in for a glass of Flint Dry while stocks last because when that wine is gone, it’s gone.
And watch this space for more on our relationship with Chapel Down…